Great Minds Think Alike

George (Reagan Wrench) and Nick (Matthew Graff) are deeply involved in an intellectual discussion while Martha (Jami Hughes) and Honey (Hannah Rader) look on in this scene of the Plaza Theatre’s first show of the 2020-21 season, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” performed on stage in October 2020. The theatre was uncertain shows could be held in-person because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but they are taking measures and following CDC guidelines to ensure safety. Facemasks and assigned seating are just two guidelines that are being implemented.

Of the six shows being presented for the 2020-21 Plaza Theatre season, four remain for the year: “Clue,” “Crimes of the Heart,” “Frozen Jr.” and “Hello Dolly.”

Early in the season, uncertainty of coronavirus was a concern and organizers began making adjustments, offering shows in a virtual format until opening for limited seating. Before the end of 2020, the Plaza was able to present “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “A Christmas Story” on stage.

“After having to bring our last season to a sudden halt, we are thrilled to be kicking off the 2020-2021 season,” Plaza Vice President of Communications Russell Kacer said in an earlier interview. “We’ve missed being on stage, the smell of popcorn in the lobby and seeing our patrons. There are still so many unknowns with COVID, but it was important that we move forward and plan for a full season.”

COVID has affected operations at the Plaza and organizers have made adjustments for the sake of patron safety.

“Everything has turned into a bit of a waiting game,” Kacer said. “We have been able to have the first two shows of the season, but because the CDC guidelines and other restrictions are constantly changing, we can only plan for one show at a time. Normally patrons can go online and choose their own seats, but we are now having to sell general admission tickets and create a seating chart so that we can properly distance our patrons within the auditorium. We have gone completely paper free for tickets and you now purchase your concessions from your seat and have them delivered to keep the lobby from crowds.”

The cast is also having to make adjustments, again for their own safety.

“Our actors are trying to conduct rehearsals virtually and when they do rehearse in person, they are required to wear face shields until the actual performances,” Kacer said.

Just as businesses have been affected financially by the virus, so has the Plaza. As a non-profit, they rely solely on memberships, sponsorships and show attendance, which is down because of the limited seating due to social distancing. Organizers, therefore, have had to make some adjustments.

“We are just trying to keep our expenses as low as possible,” he said. “The rights for the shows are still the same, but we can only sell a portion of the tickets that we normally could. We are trying to keep construction of sets, costumes and other production costs as low as possible. We did not print a season brochure this year to help save on the printing and postage costs associated with it.”

One advantage the non-profit has is that it owns its own building, but there is added expense for renting office space next door.

Other expenses include royalties for plays presented by Plaza cast and crew.

“Royalties for our shows range anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 plus per production,” Kacer said. “Luckily, we were able to open the theater in time for ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in October 2020, but attendance was extremely low. As we build our next season, we are making sure that all of the shows that we pick can be presented both in person and virtually.”

During the period in which the Plaza closed its doors until the first show of the 2020-21 season, organizers got creative with an online production.

“We did present ‘Drinking Habits’ during the summer of 2020,” Kacer said. “It was a comedy that was performed on the Plaza stage, but was recorded and then streamed over a service that is specifically for live performances. We charged a small fee per household to access the show and watch from a tablet, computer or TV with the proper streaming equipment.”

As the season continues, the Plaza board have some concerns about keeping the doors open while also making sure actors and patrons are safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our main concern has been ‘how do we continue the mission of the Plaza and bring the performing arts to Wharton County, while keeping our actors, volunteers, and patron all safe?’ The board and production committee are monitoring the CDC guidelines closely and keeping things as clean and contact-less as possible.”

Face masks are required when entering the Plaza Theatre but are not required while in your designated seat.

Other safeguards are also being implemented with concessions, theater seating and bathroom occupancy, where to enter and exit the building, contact-less ticket system and how to make reservations.

Auditions have been held and the cast chosen for the production of “Clue?” Cast members are as follows: Wadsworth: Matthew Graff, Yvette: Jenna Crowell, Mrs. White: Janice McDonald, Miss. Scarlet: Eden Rule, Mrs. Peacock: Jami Hughes, Colonel Mustard: Todd Respondek, Professor Plum: Darve Smith, Mr. Green: Eli Kresta, Ensemble Woman: Emma Yates, Mr. Boddy: Erick Whitley, The Unexpected Cop: Sarah Beth Sims, Ensemble: Dante Hancock, Ensemble: Holly Respondek.

Under the direction of Reagan Wrench, assistant director Darin Mielke and stage manager Quinn Wrench, “Clue?” will be presented the weekends of Friday, Feb. 5 through Sunday, Feb. 14. Show times for Friday and Saturday is 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinée will be 2:30 p.m.

The season includes the production of “Crimes of the Heart,” the Litefooters summer presentation of “Frozen Jr.” and a summer showing of “Hello, Dolly!”

Crimes of the Heart:

Set in Hazlehurst, Miss., the three Magrath sisters have gathered to await news of their grandfather, who is living out his last hours in the local hospital. Lenny, the oldest sister, is unmarried at 30; Meg, the middle sister, who quickly outgrew Hazlehurst, is back after a failed singing career; while Babe, the youngest, is out on bail after having shot her husband in the stomach. Their troubles, grave and yet, somehow, hilarious, are highlighted by their priggish cousin, Chick, and by the awkward young lawyer who tries to keep Babe out of jail while helpless not to fall in love with her. In the end the play is the story of how its young characters escape the past to seize the future.

“Crimes of the Heart” will be presented weekends of Friday, April 16 through Sunday, April 25.

• Litefooters Summer 2021

Youth Production: Frozen Jr.

“Frozen Jr.” is based on the 2018 Broadway musical which brings Elsa, Anna and the magical land of Arendelle to life. The show features all of the memorable songs from the animated film, with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, plus five new songs written for the Broadway production.

Follow this story of true love and acceptance between sisters, Princesses Anna and Elsa Frozen Jr.

This play will be performed Thursday, June 24 through Sunday, June 27.

• Summer 2021: Hello, Dolly!

This musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s hit play The Matchmaker bursts with humor, romance, energetic dance and some of the greatest songs in musical theatre history. The romantic and comic exploits of Dolly Gallagher-Levi, turn-of-the-century matchmaker and “woman who arranges things,” are certain to thrill and entertain audiences again and again. The show’s unforgettable songs include “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Ribbons Down My Back,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Elegance” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”

Show times are Friday, July 30 through Sunday, Aug. 13.

Patrons are encouraged to follow the Plaza Theatre on social media and subscribe to the email list in order to be updated regarding when tickets will go on sale.

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